Mercury, a dangerous substance that is imported and used in Bolivia without any control

However, the uncontrolled use of mercury for mining activities in Bolivia is of constant concern and despite constant reports of its impact on the environment and health, its importation, transport and handling for the mining industry is not controlled or regulated in the state.

There have been several complaints from indigenous peoples, groups, organizations, authorities and international bodies about the damage caused by the use of mercury to extract gold, particularly in regions such as Beni and La Paz.

“Mercury is not regulated by special regulations, but as a dangerous or poisonous substance it falls within the scope of the environmental law. With this in mind, there are several provisions that require authorization for activities involving hazardous substances, ”said Oscar Campanini, director of the Bolivian Documentation and Information Center (Cedib).

Over the past decade, studies on specific cases of damage to biodiversity in the La Paz and Beni regions and among indigenous peoples such as the Esse Rja, who have gradually registered health changes at risk, have even warned of the danger of mercury in their survival.

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However, Bolivia is increasing its mercury imports year after year, a study by several institutions shows an exponential increase in 2021 with 200 tons of mercury entering the country, 68 of which went to small gold mines.

Uncontrolled toxic substance

Since 1995, mercury has been classified as a dangerous substance, so its handling and handling are subject to the regulation for activities with dangerous substances.

And in the case of mining, this is regulated by Title VI of the Environmental Ordinance for Mining Activities, which states in its most important provision that “the use of mercury in the mineral concentration process is only allowed if recovery systems are installed. Of mercury at the exit of the process. Amalgam treatment must be carried out in retorts or other devices that prevent the release of mercury into the environment.

With regard to imports, this regulation also stipulates that “the importation or movement of goods that are harmful to the environment, health and life of humans and animals or to plant protection into the national customs area is not assessed”.

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Article 17 of the Ordinance for activities involving hazardous substances also emphasizes that a permit is required for the import and / or export of hazardous substances.

“But although the law stipulates that mercury importers and transporters must have a license to work with dangerous substances, there is no license for dangerous substances besides miners,” says Campanini.

Given a panorama of the indiscriminate use of mercury in mining and direct impacts on the environment and indigenous peoples, United Nations rapporteurs Marcos Orellana (Toxic Substances and Human Rights) and José Francisco Cali Tzay (Indigenous Peoples Rights) recently issued a Letter of Allegations “to the Bolivian state on the situation of human rights violations due to the irregular use of mercury in the country.

In this letter, you recall your “deep concern about the excessive increase in imports and use of mercury in Bolivia, with its grave consequences for the environment, human health, the disproportionate impact of pollution on indigenous territory and the lives of indigenous people” People”.

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